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|Unusual Bonds: Part 3|
February 10, 2018
"This looks familiar," Lu Ten huffed as he and Ratana darted through yet another dimly lit hallway. "Are you sure that we aren't running in circles right now?"
"Positive," Ratana said indignantly. "We're still moving in the same direction."
"Are you sure?" Lu Ten muttered, glancing quickly at Ratana. "You would be surprised how many people say that when they're lost in the middle of a desert."
"I'm sure!" Ratana shot back. She too was beginning to hate the dim green tone of the complex more and more. "Not only are we in a different hall," she went on as she kicked off her shoe and stretched her bare foot over the stone tiles. "But almost all these cells were empty. In our cell I could hear faint noises coming from the cells next to ours."
"Okay, so we are in a different hallway now," conceded Lu Ten. "That's good. It just looked familiar is all."
"Probably because the Dai Li built every tunnel in their entire headquarters like that," Ratana said matter-of-factly. "I don't know what was going through their heads when they decided to build their underground base like this."
"I see," said Lu Ten. "Which ring are we under now? I wonder how it is that the Dai Li prevent people from seeing them enter their base."
"I doubt we're in the city," said Ratana. "I have no idea where the Dai Li base is, so we could be anywhere between the Outer Wall and the Lower Ring now."
"But when we left the cell you seemed so sure we were underground," Lu Ten pointed out. "Didn't you say you've been here before?"
"Yes, but I didn't see the exit or entrance," she explained. "They had us blindfolded coming out and we were unconscious when they brought us in. I just know that we were underground because we came above ground on our way out, but the Dai Li don't reveal this location to anyone. I just know it's not in the city."
Ratana and Lu Ten came to a halt when they reached the next corner and promptly took up defensive stances. There were three Dai Li agents standing at a fork in their path. Two of them were standing together before being joined by a third coming from the left.
The pair of escaped prisoners kept an eye on them, but waited in place. "Let's just get going," Ratana said. "I'm sure that you and I can take those three, however tough they might be."
"No Ratana," Lu Ten said firmly. "We need to avoid that if possible. If we aren't thorough and just one of the three lingers for a bit, they will sound the alarm on us. Even if that doesn't happen, someone else might hear the noise and come running. Then we'd be found out anyway."
"I don't know about you, but I know how to fight and not make a whole lot of noise," said Ratana. She turned her head away from him so that the Fire Prince would not see her reddening cheeks.
"I'm sure you do," said Lu Ten. "It's just too risky right now. That's all."
Ratana resigned herself. "Fine," she said. Now that it was decided, though, Ratana found she did not mind waiting there a little longer.
Iroh would have been incredibly foolish to not expect cold when he traveled up to the far north. This, however, was the coldest he had ever been, and the very air turned any exposed pores into icicles. Everything else that had happened Iroh was not expecting. When he returned to the Fire Nation, his expedition would be declared a failure before his people, and that was the best he could hope for, if he made it out alive. Both the ship and the crew he came with were now lost and the prince had merely his own self and his own wits. As the Fire Lord always said, a soldier trapped in hazardous territory met his defining moment.
"Well, that settles it, Father" Iroh said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "By the end of all this, I'll be either defined or dead." Instead of his palace chambers, he awoke in what appeared to be a frozen cave, presumably the hideout of his captors.
"The latter most likely." So Iroh was not completely alone in the frozen cell after all.
"Who said that?" The Crown Prince immediately whipped around in that direction and assumed his fighting stance, despite being fast asleep not a minute earlier.
"That would be me," said the man, who seemed to blend into the cell with his blue Water Tribe clothing. His short crop of white hair did not make him stand out much, either. Despite the color of his hair, though, he did not appear to be that old. "It's been quiet in here. I wasn't expecting royalty of all people."
"Wait a second," said Iroh, quizzically. "How do you know-"
"-who you are?" his fellow prisoner finished for him. "Clearly they decided you'd be worth more to them alive than dead. For three long years Chief Nanook has sent us to raid your coastal colonies and I anticipated the legendary Dragon of Fire himself would come to fight us." The man let out a humorless laugh which soon disappeared. "But, the Fire Lord stays home and sends his son to fight instead."
"Perhaps I will," Iroh said, clenching all ten of his fingers together as the Water Tribe soldier assumed his fighting stance as well. Just now he noticed that he was wearing what appeared to be a captain's uniform. "Or perhaps you could answer a question or two that I might have and then we can part ways in peace. Enemies or not, we're both trapped. So lets be practical."
The man did not respond. Instead, he twisted his right hand and swung his arms about, drawing a water whip out of the snowy floor and hurling it in Iroh's direction. The Crown Prince of the Fire Nation saw that coming before his opponent had even moved an inch. He ducked out of the way, then promptly regained his footing. Jabbing forth a left hook, he responded with his own blast of fire. The waterbender shifted to the left so that his head would not be burnt to a crisp. Iroh noticed that not just he, but all waterbenders, had a habit of responding to an attack and crafting their own as seamlessly as when water itself flowed down a stream.
But as soon as he was preparing to attack back, the stream of water suddenly encircled the Northern Water Tribe captain and then promptly closed in on him. The man flayed his arms helplessly and backed into the corner that had been made for him, confirming to Iroh that he was no longer the one who controlled the water. Soon he was hanging limply in a frozen wall with only his head and his hands at the wrists hanging out.
"No fighting," a distant voice called, which obviously belonged to one of their captors.
"Those must be the ones keeping us here," Iroh muttered to himself.
"Of course," said the now-entrenched waterbending soldier. "Who else would it be?"
"Why did they spare you?" asked Iroh. "You're not a prince."
"No," the waterbender said as he continued to struggle in frustration against his icy body wall. "I was captured with my men while we were out scouting the waters around our capital. We were ambushed and our cargo was looted. They slaughtered the men under my command and kept me around for questioning...for now."
"I see," said Iroh, curious to know more about the people that had captured him. "So they have nothing to do with you then?"
"Of course not," said the man. "They call themselves the Arctic Resistance, but they're nothing but a bunch of rogues and thugs that wish to destroy everything we hold dear. They would change everything."
"Change can be good," the younger Iroh remarked. "We can never grow if we're staying the same all the time."
"The Arctic Resistance is not just making changes that are necessary for the sake of change," said the waterbending captain. "They attack and terrorize our way of life."
"Fine," said Iroh. "But are you sure it is not you who is holding on too tight to customs that have outlived their purpose? I mean, it's always tough to let go of something you've had for so long, but-"
"The Arctic Resistance tore down our temples at the capital, while civilians were inside," the man interrupted Iroh, not allowing him to finish his thought first. "Probably thought no one would expect it then. Their tactics are thoroughly ruthless! They also looted defenseless villages for their so-called cause and attack anything with a hint of tradition in it. They don't care about what we already have. All they want to do is to destroy."
"Alright," said Iroh. "I get the point. The Arctic Resistance is bad. Well, you seem like you know an awful lot. Why don't you tell me more about them?"
"You seem like you expect me to help you escape," said the man. "That is something I have no desire of doing."
Iroh stretched his arms out and cocked his fingers and wrists one at a time. Then he placed his outstretched hand against the waterbender's wall that held him in place. When Iroh exhaled deeply, the man turned his face aside and winced, expecting to be burned alive. Instead, his prison melted.
"That was very generous of you," said the waterbender, waving his damp arms about. "Or perhaps it was dumb."
"Perhaps, but I think not," said Iroh. "The fact is that we're both prisoners of the Arctic Resistance, enemies as we might be. If I escape, we both escape. Just listen for a second."
"What makes you think that I want to listen to you?"
"You were in this cell while I was unconscious," Iroh pointed out. "You had the chance to kill me in my sleep with all your waterbending at your disposal, and you didn't. Why?"
"Attacking you while you were unconscious would have been extremely dishonorable!" the man said, taken aback.
"Of course," said Iroh. "You're a skilled waterbender, but they have their own waterbenders who heavily outnumber you. With my firebending, I bring a new element into the mix that we could use to our advantage."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that if we're going to escape this place, we might have to work together," said the Prince of the Fire Nation.
"Any alliance between us can only be temporary," said the man. "You are an enemy of my people."
"Naturally." Iroh bowed. "I should properly introduce myself. You may call me Iroh."
Taking this all in, the man merely nodded his head in acknowledgement. "Pakku."
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